UNESCO World Heritage sites are places, locales and structures designated important and worthy of meticulous preservation by their natural or cultural value, generally historical and aesthetic. They typically contain a high density or an integrated cornucopia of natural or anthropological historical wealth. Bihar, the cradle of three religions, and multiple mighty kingdoms were thus bound to contribute its fair share of cultural heritage to India and the world. There are two existent and one tentative World Heritage Sites in Bihar, all from the Ancient Period, and connected to Buddhist pilgrimage and learning in some way or the other. Let’s have a look at these iconic locales which are the worldwide-glowing beacons of pride of Bihar:
Mahabodhi Temple Complex
The Mahabodhi temple complex is a Buddhist pilgrimage and homage-paying site in Bodh Gaya. The series of monuments houses monks, devotees and most importantly the single most-revered relic site in Buddhism: The lineage of the Peepal Tree under which Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. Adjacent to it is a raised platform adjoining the main temple. It is made of polished sandstone and is known as the Vajrasana (the Diamond Throne), constructed and consecrated by Ashoka to mark the exact spot where Buddha supposedly sat and meditated. The original structure was built by the great Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, a devout adherent and patron of the Buddhist faith, in around 260 BC, and is the most important destination in the 4-point Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. The temple has since been rebuilt, restored and overhauled on numerous occasions, and little of the original survives, which is still quite a feat in its own right, by its sheer age and brick-basis alone. A museum beside the temple houses many of its valuable, dated relics. All artefact discoveries in the area are legally protected under the Treasure Trove Act of 1878. In 2013, the temple was overlaid with gold donated by the King of Thailand. The structure is one of the most emulated ones, across the world, its replicas ranging from Thailand to China.
Site of Nalanda Mahavihara
The ruins of the Nalanda University are the archaeological remains of an ancient monastic cum educational institution, some of which date back as early as the 3rd century BCE.
The structures include stupas, shrines, viharas (residential and scholastic quarters, chambers and dormitories) and surviving artworks forged in stone and metal. Nalanda has the distinction of being one of the most ancient universities of the Indian Subcontinent. It was a hub of learning and an unbroken continuum of systematic knowledge-dissemination for over eight centuries. It played host to foreign pupils from a host of regions across Asia. Most of our knowledge about it stems from the works of Chinese pilgrim-scholars as Xuanzang and Yijing. In 1200 CE, it was ransacked by Bakhtiyar Khalji. It was the centre of multifaceted scholarly and critical discourse for ages. It stood in testimony to the maturation and proliferation of Buddhism into a religion and the thriving of monastic and educational traditions within and around it. The archaeological site is situated about 95 kilometres southeast of Patna, close to Bihar Sharif. It is also associated with the temporary stays and sermon-deliverances of the Buddha and Mahavira, predating the university.
On 25 November 2010 the Indian government, through an Act of Parliament, formally resurrected the university by passing the Nalanda University Bill, and as a result, a new Nalanda University was established being deemed a university of national importance due to its cultural and historic significance. The route was of great significance to Indians to both sell their products and pieces of exemplary artisanship as well as purchase raw materials and foreign crafts.
Silk Road Site at Vaishali (Tentative)
The Silk Road was a vast sprawling trade trail – an expansive network of trade routes that spanned from Eastern China to the Mediterranean via Persia and Asia Minor and from Central Asia to Indochina as far as Java. The extensive circuit teemed with merchants, traders, artisans and middlemen for 14 centuries since the 2nd century AD.
Excavations conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India at Kolhua, 65 km North-west of Patna, have yielded a monolithic, polished sandstone pillar, consisting of circular shaft surmounted by a capital, and circumvented by other peripherals. Among other remains unearthed are those of the Kuthagarshala, Swastika shaped monastery, a tank, a cluster of votive stupas, miniature shrines and main stupas.
Silk Road Site at Vikramshila Ancient University (Tentative)
One of the three renowned ancient universities of India, besides Taxila and Nalanda, Vikramshila was an important centre and trove of culture, heritage, art and education.
Archaeological pursuits have yielded an enormous square-shaped monastery centred around a cross-shaped stupa, a library building and a cluster of votive stupas, as was the hallmark of most Buddhist sites of the era. Various religious sites of Hindu and Tibetan traditions adjoin the structure. Each side of the square monastery measures 330 meters. There are 208 rooms, 53 on each side of it. The full campus sprawled over a hundred acres. The inner sides of the walls are embellished with mural mouldings and fine, intricately-decorated terracotta plaques dating back to the Pala period (8th-12th century BCE). These depict several Hindu and Buddhist deities and human figures and birds and beasts. The library building was ventilated by cooled water from the adjoined water reservoir via an array of vents in the well.
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Buddhist Remains at Kushinagar (Tentative)
Kushinagar is said to be the site where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana (Great transcendental state of peace and salvation) post-carnal death and was subsequently cremated. It is one of the four important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. It is an international Buddhist pilgrimage centre.
There are three major relic sites at Kushinagar: the Main site, the Matha-Kuar shine, and the cremation stupa. The main site consists of the main stupa and Nirvana shrine with the adjoining monuments.
Ashoka built a stupa and pilgrimage site to mark Buddha’s parinirvana in Kushinagar, while the Hindu Gupta rulers helped greatly expand, proliferate and embellish it building a temple dedicated to Buddha featuring s reclining statue of him. Today, it is a famed international site, attracting Buddhists from all around the world.
Quote of the day-“Don't be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” ―